A book that you wish a publisher would pick up again and maybe treat with a revised introduction, Modern Japanese Painting by Torao Miyagawa was first published by Kodansha International in 1967, translated by Imai Toshizo the book consists of a synopsis of influences on Japanese art from the Meiji era to the early post war period, the book includes thirty pages of plates and brief biographies of the artists. Some of these paintings I’m familiar with, and others this is a first time viewing. A portrait here that I’ve not seen before is Kaburagi Kiyokata’s, (born 1878), portrait of the novelist Higuchi Ichiyo, posed in a formal position in front of her sewing kit. A landscape I’ve seen before is Koide Narashige’s, (1887-1931), 1930 painting Landscape With Logs/Kareiki no Aru Fukei, the logs resemble human beings, and a figure sat on the telephone wires at first glance is easily mistaken for a foreboding crow, but on closer inspection the figure has quite distinctly human features. Another artist whose works I’ve seen before is Kishida Ryusei, (1881-1929), the portrait here is Reiko at Sumiyoshi Shrine, 1922, another striking portrait is Portrait of Vasilii Yaroshenko by Nakamura Tsune, (1887-1924), the synopsis of the painting describes that a friend of Nakamura Tsune spotted the blind Russian at a street car stop one night and felt a strong desire to paint his portrait, Nakamura agreed, Vasilii Yaroshenko was a poet, and the portrait captures a sense of vibrancy. Aoki Shigeru, (1882-1911), is an artist I’ve not come across before picking up this book, the painting here is Fortunes of the Sea/Umi no Sachi, aka Fruits of the Sea, in it a group of nude fisherman hoist up their catch from the sea’s edge, the image has a stark physicality to it, Shigeru died at the early age of 28 from tuberculosis. Most of the paintings included here bear either a French influence, (Asai Chu, 1856-1907, stayed in Europe for 2 years in 1900), or Chinese influence, (Maeda Seison, Yokoyama Taikan), Imamura Shiko’s, (1880-1936), detail of his Tropical Country Series combines many different styles, incorporating modernistic and tradional stylistic elements, Imamura was obviously an accomplished artist in traditional styles, this scene has a modern vibrancy to it. The striking self portrait on the cover comes from Maeda Seison, (1885-1977), often seen as one of the founders of nihonga, it’s entitled, White Hair.
The text of the book is made up of seven chapters which charts the history of modern Japanese art, from the Meiji Restoration, then briefly following it’s path to the early post war period. Two names that feature prominently is Asai Chu, whose paintings, Spring Field/ Shumpo and Bridge at Grez/Grez no Hashi, (1902), are included in the book, and also Kuroda Seiki, (1866-1924), the text covers his creating of the Hakuba-kai art society in 1896, two paintings of his here are Lakeside/Kohan and the more abstract Plum Trees/Bairin from 1924. One of the most abstract works is by Takeuchi Seiho, (1864-1942), River Mouth/Kako, from 1918, Torao Miyagawa points out that it incorporates a technique called haboku, (broken ink), which can also be seen in Chinese painting. The Taisho period is touched upon in a chapter called The Era of the Green Sun, in which Torao Miyagawa describes the rise of nationalism and also the case of Kotoku Shusui, but quotes from the poet/sculptor, Kotaro Takamura, (1883-1956), one of the founders of Shirakaba, (White Birch), whose Chieko Poems have been translated into English here, after returning from a stay in Europe, Takamura proclaims – “I am in search of the absolute freedom of the artistic world. Accordingly I try to admit the limitless power in the artist’s individuality. In whatever context, I wish to consider art as one individual human being. I want to evaluate works of art using the artist’s individuality as the starting point. I want to study individuality as it is and do not wish to unnecessarily question the individual. Even if two or three people paint a green sun, I will not say that is wrong, because it is possible that the sun might also appear that way to me.” This book is a perfect blend of scholary information and well presented plates of paintings.